Exclusive: Cinereach Launches the Next Generation of Socially-Aware Filmmakers

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Monday night Cinereach — a non-profit dedicated to socially aware film and documentary — presented their first ever $5,000 Reach Out grant to fledgling filmmakers Danielle Russell and Brendon McQueen for the promotion and distribution of their films. The evening was a celebration of the four Reach Fellows — Russell, McQueen, Dena Greenbaum and Jules Monteyne — and kicked off with a full-house screening of their work: Russell’s Bridging the Gap, McQueen’s Skip Rocks, Greenbaum’s Blues, and Monteyne’s I go to War with Everything that Doesn’t Make Sense in a Bathtub. The shorts dealt with a range of topics: the Crown Heights riots of the early ’90s, Alzheimer’s, racism and teen depression, and a personal documentary of Russell’s struggle to get her parents to share their civil rights experiences.

After the screening, the audience traipsed two blocks (guided by ushers and red tape stamped “CINEREACH,”) to the Bowery Hotel for an evening of cocktails and canapés.

While the films evidenced stylistic differences in the budding filmmakers’ approaches, a common theme permeated all four: a dedication to important stories, told artfully. This, according to Reva Goldberg, Cinereach’s Communications and Special Projects Manager, is the point of the Reach Program. “We’re looking for young filmmakers — fresh out of college, who might not have other opportunities — who want to make films that have an element of hope, that inspire action.” Philipp Engelhorn, Founder and Executive Director, explained the fellowship this way: “We started the Reach Fellowship based on what we would have loved, what we didn’t have, as young filmmakers just finishing up school. That’s what we give our fellows.”

The screening marked the culmination of an intense six months for the fellows. Supported by the resources of Cinereach, the four worked tirelessly towards the creation of their films thanks in large part to a $5,000 grant and donated materials and services from sponsors like Kodak, Postworks and Showbiz Software. The fellows participated in a series of workshops led by advisers such as Academy Award-nominated director Ellen Kuras (The Betrayal: Nerakhoon), producer Susan Leber (Down to the Bone), documentary director Edet Belzberg (Children Underground), screenwriter Afia Nathaniel, an acclaimed independent filmmaker from Pakistan, and writer/director/actor Paola Mendoza (Still Standing).

In a lull between the awards ceremony and a photo-op, Flavorwire had a chance to grab a second with Russell and McQueen for a few questions.

Flavorwire: How did you feel coming receiving the fellowship to begin with? What were you expecting, and did it turn out like you anticipated?

Danielle Russell: I went in honored. Really honored to be receiving. I went in expecting someone to just hand me a check, but it ended up being so much more than that. The person-to-person support I received far eclipsed the money Cinereach gave me.

FW: How did you decide on your script for your fellowship application?

Brendon McQueen: Initially I wanted to come up with something new, but I was having a hard time so I went back to my little “vault,” as it were, and decided to use Skip Rocks. I had workshopped it at Columbia (where he graduates this year) and everyone really loved it.

FW: What’s one thing you learned?

BM: Trust your audience to pick up on subtleties. Trust human nature.

FW: So, what’s next?

DR: I’m shopping the film around. I’ve given it to the Ralph Gilbert Civil Rights Museum and the Atlanta Auburn Research Museum. I’m thinking about giving it to PBS.

BM: I’m working on a feature script with Casey Labow. I want to take Skip Rocks to film festivals. I also have a commercial production company called Prydehouse.

Cinereach will be accepting applications for next year’s fellowship program beginning April 11. To learn more visit: www.cinereach.org.